I kept on Kizza Besigye’s trail for a full month, since December 22, and observed some factors that may be encouraging the now four-time challenger against President Museveni to walk with a “swag”, as he likes to say these days.
During the month in question, Besigye toured parts of Acholi, the whole of West Nile, parts of Bunyoro, two districts of Buganda’s cattle corridor, and the parts of Bugisu, Bukedi, Busoga, Teso and Karamoja which he had not done before.
Each day is rigourous, starting at about 9am and nearly always ending after the official deadline of 6pm. You will drive through virtually every village for him to address the people in every sub county. In some places the crowd will start forming when Besigye is already there because it is too early and people are still working in their gardens or other places.
To announce Besigye’s presence in an area, his signature song, “Besigye ameyingiya”, will have played on loud speakers through the villages. Kadongokamu artiste Fred Sebaale has composed another campaign song for Besigye, “Akalulu ka retired colonel” (The vote is for the retired colonel), and a group of artistes composed one for Museveni, “Tubonga naawe”. But none of them compares with “Besigye ameyingiya”. There is usually very little time for playing it on Besigye’s rallies, but people clearly enjoy dancing to it.
The fanfare aside, there are two key factors which seem to encourage Besigye that this could be his time. The first is the issue of women. Besigye appears to have more women attending his rallies than before. The most common reasons they give for supporting Besigye are “unfullfilled promises” on the part of President Museveni and sympathy towards Besigye for having stood several times and having his votes “stolen”. Yes, many people you will ask believe Besigye’s votes were stolen in the past.
Besigye is also encouraged by the enthusiasm shown by people in areas where Museveni has won commandingly in the past. A case in point are the three districts of Sebei – Kapchorwa, Kween and Bukwo. These are traditionally yellow districts but Besigye’s campaigns in the area turned into a platform for complaining about unfulfilled promises.
In Kapchorwa residents told Besigye that Museveni promised to build a high altitute athletics training pitch “within one year” shortly after Steven Kiprotich won a gold medal in long distance races in 2012. No pitch yet.
In the camps for internally displaced persons who were removed from the Mt Elgon forest reserve, there were more complaints. Residents of Teriet camp wanted to show Besigye around but the police blocked him from entering the camp. That was in Bukwo.
Later when he toured Kween, Besigye toured Rwanda camp, this time unhampered by the police. Here hundreds of families live in makeshift dwellings built on a small patch of rocky ground. Their toilets are overflowing and the stench from there will make you sick. When their loved ones die, the residents say, they smuggle the bodies for burial in the forest reserve under the cover of night.
Their leader gave Besigye a copy of a letter written by President Museveni about five years ago directing the Prime Minister to urgently deal with the condition of these people and give them land. They said nothing has happened since.
To keep with the story of unfulfilled promises, people in the entire Sebei complained about the state of the road from Kapchorwa to Suam at the border with Kenya in Bukwo. The area is hilly and rocky in many parts, making it a nightmare to make the 78km journey. Residents say it takes half a day or longer to make the journey especially when it rains.
The road has been on the list of those to be tarmacked for years. FDC secretary general Nandala Mafabi led the song about the unfulfilled promises in the area and the whole of eastern Uganda.
Besigye tells the people that Museveni does not intend to work for them and that he fell out with him because Museveni “betrayed” the cause of the Movement and established a system that “serves a clique and exploits the majority”.
In all, Besigye seems intent on riding on sympathy to tap into discontent in different parts of the country to take the presidency at his fourth time of asking.